First Energy is back — with another version of its proposal to create zero emissions credits for the Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear power plants. House Bill 381, sponsored by state Rep. Anthony DeVitis, a Green Republican, would generate a smaller financial cushion for the Akron-based power company. The measure remains necessary, if Ohio is going to do its part to address climate change.
The Davis-Besse and Perry plants face the same challenges as nuclear plants across the country. They have trouble competing against cheap, abundant natural gas. Already nuclear plants have closed elsewhere. New York and Illinois have led the way in seeking to bolster the position of nuclear, arguing, correctly, that the plants are indispensable clean energy.
Ninety percent of the clean energy in Ohio comes from Davis-Besse and Perry. Jeopardize that capacity, and the leading replacement would be natural gas, promoted as “clean” but still a fossil fuel, with 60 percent of the carbon emissions of coal.
That should be enough to rally environmental groups behind the FirstEnergy proposal. Unfortunately, they have joined critics decrying the “bailout” of aging, outdated plants.
What would FirstEnergy receive through H.B. 381? Roughly $180 million a year, residential customers paying $2.50 per month. The subsidy would continue for 12 years. Advocates for the legislation cite the benefits to the communities surrounding the plants, securing 1,400 jobs, plus 3,000 related positions and tax dollars flowing to local schools and other public entities. Akron could be hit hardest if another utility consumes a vulnerable FirstEnergy.
Those arguments may resonate most deeply at the Statehouse. The environmental case is stronger.
Consumer advocates and the oil and gas industry stress: Trust the market. FirstEnergy said as much not too long ago. Markets serve well, obviously. They also are imperfect. In this instance, they fail to value adequately reliable, carbon-free nuclear power.
Policymakers often have intervened to serve a larger public interest. They have aided wind and solar power, even fossil fuels. This isn’t about picking winners and losers among businesses, as the easy slogan goes. The losers will be Ohioans and the rest of the country — without sufficient nuclear power when scientists warn that carbon emissions must be reduced at least 80 percent by mid-century to prevent graver harm from climate change.
Look at the damage in Houston, Florida and Puerto Rico, the physics of global warming intensifying rainfall and hurricanes, the costs evident from the many images.
Rick Perry, the secretary of energy, has launched a federal effort to improve the financial position of nuclear and coal. If his initiative is hurried and incomplete, it also misses the mark in failing to focus exclusively on nuclear. The Trump White House shows little concern about climate change.
Ohio can do better than ignore the compelling science. Lawmakers can take seriously what FirstEnergy proposes, preserving our largest source of clean energy.